By Ben Bissell
The energy in the air is thick with emotion.
The AlamoDome in San Antonio has been a madhouse for over three hours, with thousands of fans from the last four teams in the 2018 NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament screaming with school spirit and chanting their universities fight songs. Tempers flare, cheers are spread, and tears are shed as teams win and lose, two teams go home and two remain.
Back home in Chicago, the atmosphere is the same. Loyola University Chicago has been buzzing for weeks over the excitement that this year’s tournament run has brought them.
School spirit in the United States varies by university. Some schools spread it nationally, while others tend to shy away from national recognition.
Loyola has historically been a school hidden from the national spotlight in terms of athletics. Before the Men’s Volleyball team winning back to back National Championships in 2014 and 2015, Loyola’s athletic program had not seen national recognition since the 1963 Men’s Basketball National Championship team.
With this year’s historic March Madness run, however, Loyola is officially back on the map as a “sports school.”
With the team’s success in the tournament, Loyola has seen a huge influx of new spirit into its basketball program over the past two months. With huge increases in their website traffic, apparel sales, and season ticket preorders, Loyola is beginning to show the early signs of an emerging sports school.
Rachel Odenthal, Loyola Athletics expert and former group ticket sales intern for the men’s basketball team, said, “Making it that far gives everyone the same sense of anticipation for the next game and season. It increases school pride and involvement, and Loyola has received so much positive press that ticket sales for next year have already increased and I believe enrollment/admission will increase as well.”
Odenthal also said that season ticket sales for next season have almost already sold out, with Loyola reaching out to current students and soon-to-be alumni through university email accounts to advertise the remaining tickets.
Odenthal isn’t the only one to notice the increasing trend in Loyola as a “sports school.”
Allan Sorsby, a business student and die-hard Ramblers fan who attended every home game this year, said “Loyola has not been known to be a sports school, but now that they are on the map, people are proud to be Ramblers. Not only within the school community, but also within Rogers Park. You can see all the local shops showing their support for the Ramblers.”
Sorsby is right. The entire Rogers Park community showed their support and saw a lot of visitors in the past couple months, mostly alumni, trying to show their support for the Ramblers.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Sister Jean bobbleheads, a hot commodity during March Madness sold by the popular sports retailer website “Fanatics,” sold more than 10,000 units in less than four weeks.
Loyola apparel also made a huge leap in sales, selling more gear in the weekend leading up to the Final Four than they had all season long. Merchandise sales at the Lake Shore Campus became so popular in the bookstore they expanded into the neighboring storefront that used to be an organic grocery store.
Sales have increased 2,000 percent compared to last year’s sales at the time.
The success of the men’s basketball team has even begun to turn the heads of non-sports enthusiasts, such as current senior Ryan Stahulak.
“I’m really not a huge sports fan, to begin with. However, this March Madness and all the hype around campus has been too hard to, ” Stahulak said. “I have been watching every game and have really been getting into the spirit because its energizing to see so much pride in Loyola.”
Stahulak is just the latest example of a student joining the popular trend of becoming a Ramblers fan. As apparel sales continue to rise and season tickets sell out, Ramblers fans are finally getting a taste of what it means to be a “sports school.”
“I really just cannot wait to see what they do next year. I know a lot of my friends and I already have planned to attend the first home game next season and will definitely be making it out to some more to support our guys. After all their hard work and the continued success of this program, things are really going to be different around here
Even with a loss to Michigan in the Final Four, the energy has not died for Ramblers fans, and many cannot wait to have their season start again next fall.
School spirit may be a hard trend to start, but Loyola University Chicago proved that even with all the odds stacked against you, even the mid-major sports programs can become national icons and turn their universities into “sports schools.”